Former University of Tennessee and current Houston Texans running back Arian Foster rushed for 2,964 yards and 23 touchdowns in his Tennessee career, but claimed he was so poor that he once begged a former coach to buy him tacos after a game, according to The Tennessean.
Along with Foster, former University of Washington tight end and now highly regarded draft prospect Austin Seferian-Jenkins faced similar financial struggles. Seferian-Jenkins stated that he could not afford a parking pass on the Washington campus at one point.
Although these may be extreme examples, nationwide officials and lawmakers are taking notice of the growing issues that student-athletes face from a financial standpoint.
Close to two months ago, the College Athletes Players Association (CAPA) filed an appeal to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) in Chicago, seeking to have the Northwestern Wildcats football team recognized as a union.
The regional NLRB director, Peter Ohr, made a huge splash in the fight for college athletes to earn compensation for their contributions, deciding that Northwestern’s scholarship football players are employees, not students, of the university and had the right to organize.
When defining “compensation” for student-athletes, the Northwestern football team isn’t looking for simple monetary gain, but instead expanded medical coverage and the assurance that their athletic scholarships line up directly with the cost of attending the university.
Although Ohr and the NLRB have decided in favor of CAPA and the Wildcats football team, Northwestern University has filed an appeal on the decision to the five-member NLRB court in Washington, which may take months or longer for a full outcome.
Apart from Northwestern’s football team taking action and forming a union, Tennessee lawmakers are potentially looking to shift the current state of student-athlete compensation.
On March 26, Tennessee’s Senate Education Committee debated on a bill that would grant a one-time stipend to every Division I athlete who completes a four-year degree at a university in the state.
It will not provide the same financial compensation or medical benefits that CAPA and the Northwestern football team are currently trying to gain, but would instead offer student-athletes a significant monetary boost after graduation in the form of a stipend.
“If student-athletes were to be given a stipend to help them, I think I’d be all for that,” said Kermit Davis, MT men’s head coach. “But to unionize, they sure have a right to do it, but it’s a more complicated issue that will take years to get through.”
The bill would mandate that schools set aside one percent of the revenue generated from ticket and merchandise sales and any television contracts to create a fund to pay student-athletes after graduation from a four-year university.
The stipends would differentiate in amount, depending on if it is a “Tier 1” sport or a lower-revenue sport. For any “Tier 1” sport (football, basketball, baseball and track and field) the amount will be capped at $50,000. All other athletes would be granted a maximum of $25,000.
The main issue when looking at paying athletes is whether fairness is met when paying players based on performance, the university or team’s stature, or gender, given the rules of Title IX and equal funding for women’s athletics.
Under Senate Bill 2511, equal funding would occur between “Tier 1” sports, but not “Tier 1” and lower-revenue sports.
A backup running back for Middle Tennessee State University would be given a stipend that is equal to that of the starting quarterback of Vanderbilt or Tennessee.
When looking at the compensation amounts between a golfer and a football player though, the golfer would be granted almost half of the amount of a football or basketball player.
The committee members voting on the bill reached a 4-4 split on March 26, keeping the bill at a standstill for now. State Sen. Steve Dickerson, R-Nashville, abstained.
Thousands of student-athletes face different circumstances and contribute to their universities’ annual income and popularity on different levels. But, perhaps it is time for student-athletes and their influences on their respective institutions to be noticed, some say.
“Obviously, student-athletes don’t have time to get a job,” Davis said. “A lot of these guys that we coach, while they’re still in school, are trying to help their families back home. Nobody is trying to feel sorry for a student-athlete, because they have it great, with a great scholarship. They’re like any normal student, but I think there’s always going to be some financial issues for some student-athletes.”
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